We spent almost a month slowly travelling through Albania during our camper trip through South Eastern Europe in winter. Albania was isolated not only from the West but also from the Communist bloc until 1991. It emerged at an economic and socially oppressed low point and is still catching up – so it can feel quite backward compared with other European countries. Many roads are in poor condition, but you will find that Albanians are careful drivers. Maybe it’s because until 1991 there were only 3000 cars in the whole country (see our post: Facts about Albania)
Driving in Albania
In driving the length of this nation using Google maps, we found ourselves on everything from modern dual carriageways, through main and minor roads to potholed unsurfaced tracks. Our first surprise was on the main road from the Greek border where all the grid tops were missing from the storm water drains. A little farther along, the road was under construction and later blocked completely. So we were diverted along unsurfaced farm tracks.
Sometimes on our travels we gave way to herds of goats or sheep. Other roads were very narrow, or more disconcertingly, we found ourselves driving alongside uncovered concrete water courses or by unguarded drops from precipitous mountainsides.
On the more positive side, having come from Greece where the drivers are fairly crazy and the rule at (most) roundabouts seems to be that traffic in the roundabout gives way to vehicles coming in, we were delighted to discover that Albanian roundabouts work like everywhere else except Greece, that Albanians are careful drivers, and people are helpful if asked. Almost everyone we met spoke English.
The bottom line – although mountain roads may occasionally be blocked or destroyed by landslides, almost all roads are quite driveable, but make time for going slowly and expect potholes or worse. One clue that the roads are bad is that Google maps will suggest a long time for a short distance. I don’t know how Ms Googly knows that, but she seems to . . . Anyway – best not drive by night.
Speed and Alcohol Limits in Albania
- 40 km/h in town
- 80-90 km/h on rural main roads
- 110 km/h on motorways
- Albania has very strict laws on drinking and driving. The allowable content of alcohol in the blood is 0.01 mg/ml compared with the UK for example at 0.08 mg/ml
Other Legal and Practical Considerations for Drivers
As in all of mainland Europe, Albanians drive on the right.
There are no Vignettes (Road taxes) to buy, and Albania has no toll roads (though there is a payable vehicle ferry on the road to Ksamil.
Obtain and carry the following documents
- Full Driving license valid in the country of issue.
- Depending on your nationality you may need an International Driving Permit
- Car insurance or car rental documents
- Photo ID (generally a passport)
- Proof of vehicle ownership (generally the vehicle taxation certificate)
- Green Card – (international car insurance to provide coverage according to the law in the country that you are in)
Headlamps or driving lights during daytime are optional, but everyone seems to use them.
If you are involved in a traffic accident, even a minor one, you must wait until the police arrive.
Use of winter tires is optional. They may be the metal-studded type (which are disallowed in some countries, including Poland, Germany etc)
Where to Park your Camper Overnight in Albania
Smartphone apps to help with journey
Apart from Google Maps, our itinerary was very largely informed by the Park4night smartphone app. It’s a real gem, with locations and reviews not only of free and paid parking but also all the service hookups. We use the paid version which means it works offline. Park4night integrates with Google too so as soon as you have found what you want, then Google maps shows you that magical blue line to the door.
Wild Camping in Albania
There is no culture of camper-vanning in Albania and there seem to be no laws against wild camping, or at least if there are, they aren’t exercised. When you find a parking spot, you just have to use your judgment about whether you are likely to be disturbed if you stay there. On our winter trip we found plenty of free undisturbed spots everywhere. Would this be so easy in summer? I doubt it.
On the Albanian riviera when we were fresh in from the Greek border, we found a camper-friendly hotel. Other than that we only stayed in one campsite. The rest of the time we parked in car parks or roadsides and had no problems.
When wild camping, we draw the blinds, and make ourselves look like an empty parked vehicle as much as possible. Of course we leave no litter and make sure we leave the place cleaner than when we arrived.
If anything should happen, call 129 for the police and 126 for an emergency doctor.
Campsites and Campervan Grounds in Albania
Along the Albanian riviera, you can find lots of camping grounds. The website Camping.Info lists 55 campsites in Albania, varying from family-run to commercial. Many are closed off season.
The campsite we stayed (Camping Moskato) in at Himarë was family run and we were one of two campers (caravan) staying while they maintained their site off-season. We got water, power, showers, laundry and wifi but their restaurant was closed.
Overnight Parking at Hotels
The hotel where we parked charged us €15 per night and gave us hard standing with wifi, power, water, and the use of toilets and showers. We stayed three nights during which time the hotel seemed to have no other guests. In the summer you can use hotel pool and all outdoor facilities.
Motorhome Rest Areas – Camper Stops in Albania
There are a few places next to the highway, where you can plug in for free, get water and empty a chemical toilet. They aren’t pretty but as service stops for water and power off season they were a great boon. They were free of charge.
Regular City Parking
We parked in two cities – in Berat – we just parallel parked outside the library in the unsuccessful hope of getting free wifi. In Tirana we paid €4 for 24 hours in secure parking in the middle of the city. It was probably the cheapest accommodation you can wish in the capitol ;). We chose the similar option to park in Lubjana when camping in Slovenia.
Travelling in Albania with your Dog or Cat
If you want to travel to Albania with a dog or a cat you’ll need a European Pet Passport, and the animal should have a valid microchip and proof of rabies vaccination.
Service Considerations for Campers – Water, Drainage, Power, Gas, WiFi in Albania
A part of all our itinerary planning in the Camper is looking for the next services. Our house on wheels needs a top-up and empty-out every three days or so. Some campsites are closed off-season or even if they are open, they may not offer drainage for example. The Park4night app is wonderful here, and here is an overview of countrywide services from our experience
This was fairly easy, though not as easy as in Greece where every town seems to have nice fresh potable water available from public taps. However many fuel stations in Albania offer free water. Tap water in Albania is supposed to be safe to drink although may be fairly heavily chlorinated.
Power is 220v European plug standard. Apart from the hotel parking and one campsite, we got a free power charge from a roadside rest area. Other than that, when the batteries got low, we used our collection of Ikea LED rechargeable reading lamps, and battery Christmas lights, or we ran the motor for a few minutes to get the water pumps working.
- Chemical Toilets
Generally the same as water pickup, from facilities at campsites, although one or twice we snuck into public or fuel station toilets to empty the cassette. We are always careful to clean up afterwards but the smell is not so easy to lose!
- Grey Water
It was even more difficult to find places to dispose of greywater than sewage, and more than once we had to empty it with buckets into toilets. Oh well! Every pleasure has its price.
This was surprisingly easy. We typed “propane” into Google Maps and found a friendly guy ten km down the road who re-filled our 10kg Polish bottle in no time for €8 a song!
We need free or cheap data for running this blog, so we find ourselves working in coffee houses, and when they close, we sometimes even cheekily park the camper up close and stay hooked up over night. Campsites all seem to offer Wifi, but not carparks or roadside stops.
Regions in Albania
Southern Albania – The Albanian Rivera
With some of the best sunshine statistics in Europe, the Albanian Riviera contrasts package-holiday multi-storey hotel towns with unspoilt secret beaches and coves accessible only by goat tracks. You should visit Ksamil where the sea and beach are beautiful. And keep away from Sarandë which is a popular summer destination.
Albanian Riviera runs from Ksamil to Vlorë. There along the shore, you can find different accommodation, campsites and offseason you can pitch tents on the beach and do our favourite beach camping
This is the region for explorers. Find ancient hill villages, forests, lakes, castles and mountains. There are 14 National Parks including enormous forests and striking valleys as well as a diversity of mountain profiles and vistas. It’s a great place for hiking.
The area around lake Shkodra is beautiful, and worth visit, especially if you plan to camp in Montenegro as well.
Albania Inland Towns
We enjoyed visiting Tirana, Berat, and Kruja among others to see town life, castles, restaurants and UNESCO heritage sites.
Berat has a few great campingsites (listed below), which are open in winter as well.
Other Practicalities about Albania.
- Not EU
Albania is outside the European Union which means when you enter from Greece or Italy (by ferry) you will have to go through border control. It’s easy and fast – at least it was in our case.
Albania has its own currency – the lek with about 120 lek to the Euro. Many people take euros, but not everyone takes cards, so keep cash with you.
We found that ATMs prefer Visa Debit cards rather than Mastercards. ATM charges for Mastercards can be as high as €8. The only ATM which seems not to charge a fee is Credins Bank ATM
- SIM Cards – mobile data
As Albania is not in the EU, our Polish SIM card roaming data suddenly became very expensive as we crossed the border from Greece. We picked up a local SIM card with no trouble in the first newsagent we found. You need your passport with you. Currently, the best deal for mobile data is with Vodafone.15 GB + 5 more for social media for 30 days at a price of 1500 lek.
Most of the camping sites have free wifi.
- Food shopping – Supermarkets in Albania
The biggest and only international chain supermarket is SPAR – and that was the only place we found meat to buy in Albania (you can buy meat in other places I just wouldn’t want to eat it.) Other supermarkets are local and some better than others. The best vegetables we got were bought from open roadside markets. Our experience was that leeks are cheap and delicious though that was probably our seasonal good fortune.
When to go camping in Albania
I’m a big fan of shoulder season or off season travels. Though I have to admit that apart from its beautiful beaches, Albania offseason wasn’t pretty at all. It was grey and dirty. The Adriatic and Ionian seas though are beautiful though a bit too cold for me to swim in.
Looking at Sarande and Ksamil, I believe that the beaches and camping sites are packed in summer, so check and book in advance. If I visit Albania again I would plan to come here in Spring or late September or October.
Camping Albania – Pin it for later
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